NASA-funded scientists using the agency’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have discovered that the shaded areas in peculiar geological features known as lunar pits hover around a pleasant 17°C (63°F), a great temperature to work and live in. This finding might be a gamechanger for future human exploration of the Moon.
The findings, published in the journal of Geophysical Research Letters, show that the temperature in the pits seems to be different from the one on the lunar surface. Wildly so. During the two-week-long lunar day, the temperature on the surface can be higher than the temperature that boils water on Earth.
Focusing on a 100-meter-deep (328 feet) cave in the Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility) and using computer modeling and data from LRO, the team discovered that the temperature in the pit only changes slightly during the lunar day.
“Lunar pits are a fascinating feature on the lunar surface,” LRO project scientist Noah Petro of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center said in a statement. “Knowing that they create a stable thermal environment helps us paint a picture of these unique lunar features and the prospect of one day exploring them.”
Lunar pits are a recent discovery. Scientists first spotted them in 2009 and since then, researchers have wondered if they could be access points to caves where astronauts could find shelter from the Moon's harsh surface conditions such as dramatic changes in temperature, cosmic rays, solar radiation, and micrometeorites.
“About 16 of the more than 200 pits are probably collapsed lava tubes,” said Tyler Horvath, a graduate researcher in planetary science at the University of California, Los Angeles. This means that at least some of them is a door (or ceiling window) to a cave.
“Humans evolved living in caves, and to caves, we might return when we live on the Moon,” explained co-author David Paige, leader of the Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment the team used to make these temperature measurements.
If everything goes according to plan, humans will be back on the surface of the Moon within the next few years and these environments will get a very close look and possibly even a little habitat inside.